Vermont's 2004 election campaign has hit the fall-foliage homestretch and, according to all the bookies on the backstretch, anyone who bets against one-term Middlebury stallion Gov. Jim Douglas is kissing their cash goodbye!
Despite the dearth of poll results, insiders on both sides agree that the only way that the once-Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle will become the next Democratic governor of Vermont is if John Kerry has coattails longer than Liz Ready's list of phony academic credentials.
Right now, the race for governor of Vermont is all about Kerry vs. Bush. Clavelle's hope is that Kerry runs a blistering final furlong, carrying at least two-thirds of the Vermont vote. Then, and only then, might the friendly bald guy from Burlap move into the Fifth Floor in Montpeculiar.
Mayor Moonie's problems are many.
For one, he's running out of dough. On Monday the Clavelle Campaign pulled the plug on about $18,000 worth of TV ads scheduled to run on WCAX this week.
For another, Clavelle has failed to effectively use Vermont's homegrown media to get out an effective, appealing message.
Last week, Moonie held a Waterfront press conference. But not even the best view in New England could save him as he stood stiffly behind a podium, delivering a rambling, three-page speech on the environment.
Five news outlets were represented.
It was a speech that: 1) should have been rehearsed, and 2) should have been delivered to a gathering of about 100 supporters instead of a handful of reporters.
Clavelle claimed Douglas had broken environmental laws. His evidence was the recently halted Lowe's construction project off Shelburne Road.
But when asked what specific law Gov. Scissorhands had broken and why the Democratic challenger hadn't spoken up at the time, Clavelle floundered, couldn't name a law, and the pained expression on his face became the answer.
The other reason Douglas is on track to hit the wire first is: Jim Douglas himself.
Even non-fans have noted his "maturation" as governor. Once thought of as a forever-B-team competitor on Vermont's political stage, the former secretary of state and treasurer has stepped it up as governor. Central casting could not deliver a more agile and polished public speaker than Middlebury Jim. His message is clear and concise and he doesn't wander off-script.
That talent was in full flower Tuesday morning in a live head-to-head debate on "Charlie & Ernie" on WVMT 620 Radio.
WVMT is AM radio at its best. Charlie Papillo and Ernie Farrar do a Vermont version of Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon that gets the blood flowing for countless commuters up and down the Champlain Valley.
Charlie's like a tennis ball, and he's never met a Democrat he's liked -- well, OK, Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia. Regular listeners tell us he's the unofficial leader of the Brian Dubie Fan Club, too.
Ernie is the referee. Savvy Ol' Ernie, by word, snort and chuckle, usually keeps Charlie between the lines.
Tuesday's radio slugfest was by far the best debate of the campaign. Charlie started with pre-entered audience questions, but then let Douglas and Clavelle go at it.
Things heated up quickly, and Ol' Charlie had the wisdom to bag the scheduled closing statements and let the mano-a-mano stuff run free.
Gov. Douglas pitched this question to his challenger: "Why did you change parties? For political expediency?"
"Not at all," scoffed Clavelle. "I have worked well with Progressives, with Democrats and Republicans, and I'm proud of the record that I've achieved in Burlington, bringing folks together from across the political spectrum to solve problems... I'm absolutely proud of the way I've brought people together, but thanks for the question, Governor."
"You didn't answer the question," snapped Douglas as he zeroed in. "Why did you change parties?"
One could feel the temperature rising, and imagine radio-volume dials getting turned up.
"I changed parties," replied Mayor Moonie, "because I'm more interested in addressing the needs of the people of the state of Vermont and working for the interests of the people of the state of Vermont, than I'm interested in partisanship. And I decided that I can achieve those interests best by working with and within the Democratic Party."
But Clavelle then quickly turned partisan on a dime. In his next breath he called on Slim Jim Douglas to pull a Jeezum Jim.
"I think you ought do what Jim Jeffords has done and leave the party, the Republican Party, the party of George Bush, which is not responding to the needs of the people of this state and this country."
Clavelle insisted Douglas' non-switch was "the big story."
Then it was Clavelle's turn to ask a question. He continued to play his ace in the hole.
"Give me and the listeners five reasons why they should vote for George W. Bush," asked Moonie. "Why should we reelect Bush-Cheney?"
"This is a gubernatorial debate," Douglas countered in defense.
"Five reasons, Mr. Chair?" said Clavelle, his voice rising.
"This is a gubernatorial debate," said the Guv. "I'm sure you can listen to the vice-presidential debate and get your questions in there."
Then Douglas hit Clavelle with a solid right to the jaw.
"I've been a Vermont Republican longer than George W. Bush has been in politics. In fact," he chortled, "I've been the Democratic nominee more times than you have!"
Gov. Scissorhands touted his bipartisan coalition-building as "the secret of my success in political life." He then went into a stirring testimonial to his GOP roots.
"I don't have to switch parties for political expediency," declared Douglas sarcastically. "I'm proud to be a Republican in Vermont in the tradition of George Aiken, who championed the Eastern Wilderness Act, Deane Davis, who championed Act 250, Bob Stafford, who authored the Clean Water Act. That's the tradition of Vermont Republicans. These were my mentors, my friends and the people whose legacy I seek to continue."
Jesus, reach for the hankies. Jim Douglas -- the environmental governor!
"You totally ducked the question," snapped Clavelle. "I asked you to give five reasons why voters should support George Bush. You're the chair of the Bush-Cheney Campaign. Give me one! C'mon Jim, come out of the closet!"
"Ooh! Jeez!" replied Douglas. "Is this a family show?" he joked. Then came another right cross from the reigning champ.
"I think the question really points out the problem, Pete. You have nothing to offer the people of Vermont and that's why you keep talking about national politics. You have no solution because things are going so well in our state. Vermonters know the economy is moving forward. More Vermonters are working. Things are good!"
"We've got to break," interrupted Charlie. Time had run out. And time is running out for Candidate Clavelle. He hasn't penetrated Douglas' Teflon exterior.
It's all coming down to John Kerry's coattails.
-- As we go to press, political junkies are looking forward to the Tuesday evening debate between Democratic State Auditor Liz Ready and her GOP challenger Randy Brock on Vermont Public Radio.
The big question is: What will be Ready's latest explanation for lying about her academic credentials for the last 16 years?
Good question, eh?
The news of Chainsaw Liz's deception couldn't have come at a worse time for the Vermont Democratic Party.
Peter Clavelle, as explained above, is in serious trouble.
Cheryl Rivers has enough to worry about in the Lite-Gov race, with publicly financed "Money-bags" Prog Steve Hingtgen buying up TV time that she simply cannot afford.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, Treasurer Jeb Spaulding and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz are the only Ds who look like winners. In fact, what the hell: With zero precincts reporting, Inside Track declares Patrick Leahy, Jeb Spaulding and Deb Markowitz winners of the November 2 election. Congratulations!
Auditor Ready's reelection, however, is now in serious jeopardy. This one cuts across party lines. One Democratic heavy called the revelation of Liz's resume lie -- about holding academic degrees she had not earned -- "a kick in the back when we weren't expecting it."
Even longtime friends and supporters of Chainsaw are stunned. Members of the Democratic ticket were not exactly delighted to be asked their views of Readygate.
Lite-Gov hopeful Rivers told Seven Days the matter was "particularly difficult" because of their longtime friendship.
"I believe Liz made a mistake," said Rivers, "and I'm not making any excuses. But as I understand it, she's apologized. I think the voters have to judge in the context of her fine career of public service. I will be supporting Liz. Voters will make their own judgments."
Democratic Party Chairman Scudder Parker told Seven Days he was "absolutely caught by surprise" when news of Ready's resume deceit first appeared in the Times Argus/Rutland Herald.
"It's definitely going to hurt Elizabeth," he said. "It already has." And remember, Ready isn't exactly known as Landslide Lizzie, having won two years ago with just 51 percent.
Will Readygate hurt the entire ticket?
"I don't think so," Parker replied. "Personally, I will vote for her."
Pretty solid endorsement, eh?
According to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz's assistant, the secretary "didn't want to inject herself further into the story," since some of Liz's resume-padding occurred in the legislative "Stud Book" published by the secretary of state's office.
State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding informed us that "So much has been said on this situation, I don't have anything to add. I would say that my office has worked constructively with Auditor Ready's office and found them to be professional and competent."
Another solid endorsement, eh?
Attorney General Bill Sorrell responded via email. Like a general ducking for cover, Sorrell gave a rather flip response. Billy is a lifelong friend of Lizzie's and was not eager to get involved. He would go no farther than to inform us that his "viewpoint is that, like Auditor Ready, I am a graduate of Rice Memorial High School."
Funny guys, those Notre Dame graduates, eh? Sorrel was magna cum laude in the Class of 1970. His website says so, anyway.
Meanwhile, Republican Randy Brock is on Ch. 3 with spots promising "to restore honesty and integrity" to the auditor's office.
P.S. While most Vermont editorial pages put the wood to Chain-saw Liz last week, the Times Argus/Rutland Herald surprised many. Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer David Moats obviously likes Liz Ready a whole lot. Instead of Liz getting caught "lying," Moats painted it as mere "fudging."
Moats' embarrassing editorial, titled "Fudge," even suggested Chainsaw's current political problem is the result "of a Republican scandal machine run amok."
Talk about shoot the messenger, eh?
It's as wacky as The Burlington Free Press' coverage of Readygate. The Freeps gave more prominence to outing GOP Chair Jim Barnett as the "source" of the accurate information than it gave to Chainsaw's 16 years of deception.
Not proud moments in Vermont journalism, folks.
-- How about the top story on the Vermont page in Friday's Freeps?
Quite the "scoop" it was.
The paper that has overlooked Con Hogan's sudden resignation from the Fletcher Allen Board of Trustees highlighted the installation of a new curb on the southeast corner of Church and College Streets in downtown Burlington.
That's the corner closest to The Burlington Free Press. In fact, we've checked it out.
Metro Editor Ed Shamy, author of the brilliant, breaking news story titled "Church Street Work Continues" had to walk all of 33 steps from the paper's front door to get the story.
That, folks, is award-winning Gannett journalism at its very best!
And the word is, the Freeps news hole has shrunk another 10 percent. What news hole?
If only the Times Argus/Rutland Herald would give Burlington another shot.
Nothing like competition to improve the product, eh?
Newspaper War? -- Speaking of competition, the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus is making a move on St. Johnsbury.
According to Managing Editor Maria Archangelo, the Barre-based TA started single-copy sales there a year ago. Local business owners approached the TA looking for a print advertising option to the Caledonian-Record.
The TA has since hired away the Record's features editor, Carla Occaso, to be their St. Johnsbury reporter.
And last weekend a delegation from the TA marched in the St. J Fall Foliage Parade. They tossed out about 400 free T-shirts to the crowd, shirts that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first St. Johnsbury-Lyndon High School football game. A very big hit, according to Archangelo.
Caledonian-Record Publisher Mark M. Smith, however, does not appear worried about the competition. Smith told Seven Days the TA's move "will have zero impact." The veteran publisher said he's quite familiar with the Times Argus/Rutland Herald operation run by longtime publisher R. John Mitchell.
"They don't put any money into local," said an unfazed Smith, "and what people want is local."
Speaking of Local -- The Vermont Sex Offender registry went online Friday. The photos of 128 convicted Vermont sex offenders -- mostly pedophiles -- were posted.
Chittenden County, Vermont's largest, leads the list with 32. No surprise -- Big Bad Burlington has the most with 10. But Burlington does not have the highest per-capita concentration of convicted child molesters. That honor goes to the smallest town in the county: St. George.
St. George, with just 700 inhabitants, has two residents posted on the online registry. That's one pedophile for every 350 citizens. St. George wins the gold!
Underhill, with 1 per 1500 residents, got the silver, and Shelburne -- yes, Shelburne -- took the bronze with 1 per 1750.
Congratulations to the winners!